Australian rider Michael Storer has secured the biggest victory of his career, winning a punishing seventh stage of the Vuelta a España by sprinting away on the final uphill kilometre to Balcón de Alicante.
- Michael Storer recorded his first ever grand tour stage victory
- Storer beat Carlos Verona up the final climb on slopes with a 14 per cent gradient
- Storer claimed the overall win at the three-stage Tour de l’Ain before the Tour de France
Primož Roglič retained the overall race lead after a tough examination over the race’s most serious test in the mountains so far.
The seventh of 21 stages in this year’s Vuelta saw the peloton ride 152km from Gandia on Spain’s south-east Mediterranean coast, tackling six classified climbs on the way.
The 24-year-old from Western Australia, who rides for Team DSM, proved strongest on a brutal day, dropping Spaniard Carlos Verona up the final climb to claim a maiden grand tour stage victory.
“I didn’t expect to become a stage winner of La Vuelta today,” Storer said.
“I’m really happy and surprised … it was a really difficult stage. I didn’t enjoy that last kilometre.”
Storer, who showed his mountain pedigree earlier this year by winning the three-stage Tour de l’Ain in the lead-up to the Tour de France, was part of a large breakaway on the stage, which also featured Aussies Chris Hamilton, Jay Vine and Jack Haig.
Team DSM, which was well represented in the break, launched multiple accelerations on the fourth, category two climb to Puerto El Collao, after which Storer escaped with Ineos Grenadiers rider Pavel Sivakov.
Sivakov and Storer failed to work together after the Russian dropped his chain, which led to them being joined by Andres Kron and the aggressive Verona, who launched two attacks of his own, the second of which sparked Storer into life and dropped the other pair.
Storer then went over the top of Verona to record a famous victory.
“The plan today was to be aggressive and to own the race,” Storer said.
“To be honest we really dominated the stage today and I’m so impressed with the guys. I don’t think we put one step wrong today, it was a really incredible effort.
“We knew coming into today that we were really well prepared and that’s really motivating. As a team we can look for more chances in this race … we’ll keep trying every day.”
Storer’s exploits also saw him rise to second in the mountains leader jersey, with Haig in fourth.
Roglič retains red jersey
Two-time defending champion Roglič, whose Jumbo Visma team was happy to let the break establish a gap and not contest for the stage win, appeared to be in danger of losing the lead at one stage.
However, a late acceleration in the bunch meant the Slovenian came home 3:33 down, managing to hold the red jersey by just eight seconds from Austria’s Felix Großschartner.
Movistar leader Enric Mas is third, 25 seconds back. Ineos rider Egan Bernal is also in contention, trailing by 41 seconds in sixth, just ahead of Australia’s Jack Haig, who catapulted himself into the top 10 to sit seventh at 57 seconds.
Well protected by his Jumbo-Visma team, Roglič only had to respond once to an attack that included title hopeful and Olympic gold medalist Richard Carapaz.
“Then for me it was just waiting to come over the finish. We saw quite some action so in the next days we can expect the same in the next days with teams who have different contenders. But we saw our guys did a great job and we’ll do our best.”
Former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde bowed out after crashing on a descent, with last year’s podium finisher Hugh Carthy also abandoning.
Riders went up the narrow mountain road to the finish line without any fans to cheer them on after regional authorities closed it to the public due to the risk of wildfires amid particularly hot and dry conditions.
Saturday’s stage stays in Spain’s hot south-east for a 173km flat trek from Santa Pola to La Manga del Mar Menor that is made for sprinters.